PG&E’s $2 billion rate increase gets no support at Santa Rosa public hearing
PG&E found few supporters at a public hearing Wednesday on the company’s request for a $2 billion gas and electric rate increase that requires approval from California’s utility watchdog.
About 30 people attended the first in a pair of hearings held in the afternoon and evening, and the seven who spoke heaped criticism on the embattled power company, some of them speaking in emotional tones.
A much larger crowd attended the evening hearing in the Santa Rosa City Council chambers, also held by administrative law judges for the California Public Utilities Commission.
Pacific Gas & Electric, which is also engaged in bankruptcy proceedings, filed a request in December for a 6.4% rate hike that would add $10.57 a month to the typical gas and electric customer’s bill next year. The new rates would boost company revenues by $1.1 billion in 2020, by $454 million in 2021 and by $486 million in 2022.
John Simon, a PG&E executive vice president, acknowledged that the rate proposal “comes at a difficult time,” adding the company’s commitment is to “keep customer costs as low as possible while meeting our responsibility to safely serve all of our customers.”
Half of the added revenue would be spent on wildfire prevention and risk reduction and none on PG&E officer compensation or wildfire claims related to the bankruptcy case, he said.
Paul Feinstein of Sebastopol said there was a “basic unfairness” in Californians paying 24 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, which he said was three times the national average.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the national average for residents is 13 cents and California’s rate is 19 cents per kWh.
“There are many people who simply cannot afford these rates,” Feinstein told administrative law judges Rafael Lirag and Elaine Lau.
Will Abrams, whose family survived a harrowing escape from the Tubbs fire in 2017, said PG&E was not trustworthy and should be required to “demonstrate the amount of risk you will reduce” with the additional revenue.
“It needs to be measurable” in risk, he said, rather than by the numbers of trees trimmed or power poles strengthened.
Heather A. Young of Santa Rosa said the cost of safety improvements should not fall on utility ratepayers.
“In our capitalist system, shareholders are supposed to be bearing the risk,” she said.
Jon Deavers’ voice cracked as he accused PG&E of misconduct and expressed skepticism over the rate-setting process.
“Stop listening to what they say and pay attention to what they’ve done,” he said. “For the love of God, you have to have the courage to break the cycle.”
Deavers is the boyfriend of Jessica Tunis, whose mother, Linda, died in the Tubbs fire.
Roseland resident Duane DeWitt said the “system is always slanted toward the power of the corporate entities in this state.”
Joseph Oñate, a Butte County resident, accused the utilities commission of being “compliant with PG&E” and failing to protect the public.
The commission and the utility “have all the resources in the world” to make needed changes “but it didn’t happen,” he said.
Oñate said he nearly lost his home and knows people who lost theirs in the Camp fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed Paradise in November.
Simon was not made available for an interview following the afternoon hearing.
“I would say we’re here to listen,” said Kristi Jourdan, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The Santa Rosa hearings were among nine locations for PUC public forums on PG&E’s rate hike proposal.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.